Aim

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

boy under tree next to truck book cover

BIBLIO: 2016,Calkins Creek an Imprint of Highlights, Ages 9 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781629796734

Times were tough in the year 1941, the United States faced the looming possibility of entering the second world war. That year was even harder for Axel Bledscoe Junior. In July of that year his Pop dies and leaves him man of the house, only beginning ninth grade. Junior must help his mother with his elderly grandfather Hammer, who had moved in just prior to his father’s passing.

Junior struggles in school and with his family life. He realizes as he talks to Pop’s old friends and family in Brookford, that his father was much more than the drunk he had become and gets a fuller sense of the childhood his Pop grew up with, especially Granddaddy’s rearing.

Struggling to find his identity, and how his father’s qualities plays into it,Junior gets into all sorts of trouble with his new friend Dudley. Junior wants to be handy,loving, and neighborly like his father in his fondest memories but keeps falling short. With the support of his neighbors and his mother, he learns to face the consequences of his actions and vows to earn the respect he desires for himself and his family. This is a truly touching coming-of-age story and flawlessly reflects the historical aspects of life on the cusp of World War II.

I would recommend this book for boys from the ages of 9-13. The plot and language is simple and the text easy to read. While basic on the surface this book can foster introspective growth. A great read for the summer.

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Honestly Ben

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

love triangle book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Arthur A. Levine Books an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 9780545858267

Honestly Ben is a very realistic and thought provoking read. The main character Ben Carver is a typical all-american overachiever. He attends Nattick Boarding school for boys and he loves history and baseball and is set up to accept the Peter Pappas award. The award basically being a stamp of approval in all aspects of life- sports, studies, extracurriculars, and being well liked by the student body.

It would seem that Ben is invincible, but there is one major snafu in his life, and that is his romantic entanglements.Ben is struggling with his sexual orientation and throughout the book he loves both the earnest,lovely Hannah and his lively,sensitive best friend Rafe. Ben must decide who matters more to him and all the consequences that go with his decisions.

Ben has more conflicting feelings than that in his life as he struggles to figure out who he is sexually, as a teammate, as a student, and as part of the Carver family. Many tough situations arise and Ben grows as a person by learning many life lessons about family, vulnerability, courage, and most of all honesty, because what is there to life if your reality isn’t the truth?

This book is relatable, the conversations and interactions feel they’ve happened in real life already. I would suggest this book for teens in high school. There are some allusions to sex and some bad language. With the complicated themes of the novel I wouldn’t advise giving it to anyone younger than thirteen.

I personally am pretty neutral on this book. It was very well written and it is one of very few fiction pieces that have changed my way of thinking. It hurt my brain to read this book, but in a good way because it was expanding my mind. It is also the first book I’ve encountered that has a bisexual character. I read this book independently, not realizing it was part of a series. If I had more backstory I think I would have liked it infinitely more. Definitely worth the read.

Read this book first!
checklist emoji book cover

The Crystal Ribbon

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

girl flowers eyes book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 12 through 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade
ISBN: 9780545767033

An utterly engrossing first novel, Lim has created an adventure set in the rural area of China under the Song Dynasty. The main character Jing comes from a poor farming village and lives in with her two brothers Wei and Pan, her Baba, Aunt Mei, and Grandmama. This comfortable life changes soon after Jing’s eleventh birthday.

The adventure begins when Jing’s family goes to the village shrine to offer homage to the local jing spirit and the village’s protector The Great Golden Huli Jing. This jing spirit was said to be a great golden fox with five tails. Shenpopo, the village shamaness read’s Jing’s fortune saying that her life will be filled with hardship but good will come from it and that she will find her place eventually, and that she must rely on hope and faith to see her through.

Shortly after, Aunt Mei arranges Jing’s marriage to three year old Juan’an, the son of a rich dressmaker in the near city Xiawan. Distraught, Jing must got to the Guo’s household and babysit her young husband and act as servant to her new family. She befriends the cook and the pet nightingale Koko. In her new life she suffers very much by the hand of her in-laws. While living there, she encounters several magial jing spirits.

A little less than two years after she arrives in Xiawan the family becomes financially troubled and plans to resolve their debt by selling Jing to the city’s chinglou, the courtisans’ residence. The luxurious lifestyle doesn’t appeal to Jing, as she sees it for the empty life it is. With the help of some friends she escapes and travels home.

On the road she reunites with Koko and gains a new acquaintance, Kaizhen. They rest at the town of Dolan and reveals the evil jing spirit that controls the villagers. After an epic battle Jing finds herself in her village, Huanan. She must decide what to do with her newfound freedom and the wisdom she has collected in her time away from home.

This book is emotional, and has a lovely element of culture. The book is a well paced book that works well as on a summer reading list. I would recommend this book to 12-16 year olds. I enjoyed this book and thought it was very similar to Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan.

Life & Love (Or Something Like it)

life & love( or something like it) by Amber Headrick

horizon at sea

BIBLIO: 2017,Amber Headrick, Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 9781548423834

Poetry written for young women tends to be quite powerful. This book of poems is no exception. A quote from the author best explains the intent of this story:” Poetry is the poor woman’s therapy”, as it is both read and written intense feelings can be experienced and empathized with.

Split into several sections, the poems intertwine themes of fairytale and lore, rounding out the story. The writing is well constructed, moving, and unique in style.

This tale is one many can relate to on a very personal level. The author contemplates her childhood, her love life, and most of all trusting those around her- most importantly herself. Starting on a dark note the poems slowly become more hopeful.

I would recommend this book to young girls in high school or college. Particularly those who are struggling with their identity and feelings, as they might discover something about themselves while reading. I think that the poetry is beautiful and I will likely be rereading this title.

Maximum Ride

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

girl with wings book cover

BIBLIO: 2007,New York: Warner Vision Books, Ages 12 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0316067959

Maximum Ride is a series written by the highly popular (at every age) James Patterson. It follows the story of six genetically mutated humans, Max, Fang, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge, and Angel. The genes used? Avian, so they all sport a set of wings. Of course being such valuable experiments The School, the mad scientists that created them, are seeking to regain these young teenagers. At their bidding they have other genetically modified humans, Erasers, on the hunt with their werewolf-ish features. Scared, without their adopted father Jeb to guide them, the Flock flee from place to place. This thrilling beginning leads the reader to a world of growing up, emotions, and what family really means. I would recommend this series to 7th grade- 10th grade girls and boys, I would even lean toward encouraging boys to read this for the action and witty dialogue, all with minimal romantic themes.

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Make Lemonade

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

 lemonade book cover

BIBLIO: 1993,New York: Henry Holt and Company, Ages 13 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0805080704

By writing this novel in poetry the story gains a whole lot of meaning. The short entries with breaks and lack of grammar and a distinctive vernacular show the disorganization and scrambled emotions of the characters. Narrated by LaVaughn, a fourteen year old girl, the reader peeks into the unfortunate life of Jolly, a seventeen year old mother, and her two children Jeremy and Jilly. LaVaughn takes the babysitting job as a way to earn money for college and after visiting for the first time, LaVaughn has more than enough incentive to get out of the neighborhood. Living in squalor and struggling paycheck to paycheck the small family gets turned upside down when Jolly loses her job. Despite all of this LaVaughn bonds closely with this little family, caring tenderly for the children and their fragile mother, be it through storytelling or bathtime she is determined to help. Unable to find work LaVaughn convinces Jolly to “take hold” by returning to school with the specialized Moms Up GED program. A unique look at Jolly’s hardship is seen through the contrasting bleeding heart LaVaughn and her tough love mother (through LaVaughn’s conversations with her and her occasional run-ins with Jolly). Several unexpected things happen, including “lemon bloms” and Jolly actually looking to change her family’s life. A heartwarming problem novel truly shows that you can “make lemonade” no matter the circumstances. This novel works through issues typically seen in inner-city communities like poverty, illiteracy, absentee fathers, pipe dreams of college, and picking oneself up again and again. I would recommend this book to girls from the latter half of 8th grade up until early 11th grade based on the content and comprehension levels.

Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

pig running book cover

BIBLIO: 2005, Candlewick Press, ages 6 to 8, $12.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Early Reader.
ISBN: 0-7636-2270-2

Mercy Watson to the Rescue is about Mercy the pig’s antics one night. Her parents Mr. and Mrs. Watson tuck her in and she gets scared of the dark and runs into their bedroom and they are dreaming when the bed starts to fall through the floor because of their weight. They all wake up in a panic. Mercy the pig, thinking about toast, jumps off the bed leaving the Watsons stranded. She searches for toast, disappointed when there is none she goes to the neighbors’ house, Eugenia and Baby Lincoln, in search of sugar cookies and affection from Baby. Lurking at the window she scares Baby and Eugenia calls the firefighters telling them there is an emergency because they think Mercy is a monster. Ned and Lorenzo the fire fighters arrive to see Eugenia chasing Mercy but then they hear the Watsons calling for help. They are able to rescue the couple before the bed crashes through the floor. Everyone celebrates Mercy’s [inadvertent] success by eating her favorite food, toast.
The gouache artwork by Chris Van Dusen adds a humorous and lively feel to the book. The interspersing of the pictures adds a lot to the story and helps to reaffirm what is happening. The cartoonish style and detail draw the eye.
This book is great as a classroom tool because it addresses literary topics like vocabulary, sentence structure, repetition, plot development, etc. It also provides openings for discussions such as fear of the dark, being judged, “Pigs should not live in houses”, being a hero, and social interactions.

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